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What is OnlyFans and How Has This Site Changed the Adult Industry?

By August 27, 2020No Comments
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OnlyFans, a not safe for work (NSFW) social network that once flew under the radar, has recently received a surge in traffic. And while a recent name-drop from Beyoncé seems to have been a fleeting catalyst, the underlying cause runs much deeper.

Let’s be clear—not all nude content is classified as pornography and not all content on OnlyFans is pornography. But the platform is quickly becoming a new phenomenon in the porn world, which poses the question: is OnlyFans a “healthy” or “safe” way to consume porn?

What is OnlyFans?

Founded in 2016 by Tim Stokely—an entrepreneur who first created a bondage and fetish site in 2011 that allowed people to pay porn performers for custom content—OnlyFans allows content creators to post content and receive payments directly from “fans” via monthly subscriptions or one-time tips.

Think of it like Instagram, but with photos and videos protected by a paywall—meaning you have to pay for access—and with fewer restrictions. The appeal for subscribers is to foster a “deeper connection” with their favorite influencers—especially by paying for personalized content.

Related: Quarantine To Blame For Surge In OnlyFans Subscribers And Sextortion Cases

Followers on OnlyFans pay a monthly subscription fee to creators that ranges anywhere from $4.99 to $49.99 a month. Creators can also charge a minimum of $5 tips or paid private messages, which is the real money maker for those with a loyal subscriber base.

OnlyFans takes a 20 percent cut of creator’s earnings and claims to only share users’ personal information to third-party payment processing companies for “verification purposes”. However, the platform isn’t guaranteed free of privacy risks. In fact, earlier this year more than 1.6TB of videos and images from OnlyFans were leaked online.

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Influencers, reality TV stars, YouTubers, and celebrities are using OnlyFans as an alternate revenue stream. While it’s true that not all creators share explicit images, many report receiving requests to make pornographic content and feel pressured to comply out of fear of losing followers.

Related: Selling Nude Photos To Support Australia—What Does This Trend Say About Society?

Many influencers are being talked into porn on OnlyFans, and those in the commercial sex industry are also utilizing the platform.

Take, for example, model Kaylen Ward who raised over $1 million in donations to Australian charities following the wildfires by charging fans $10 to see her explicit photos.

Experience levels vary from creator to creator. Some are commercial sex industry professionals who were in the industry long before the platform existed and have expanded their services and supplemented their income through OnlyFans, while others had little to no commercial sex experience prior to the lockdowns.

Since the COVID-19 lockdowns, OnlyFans has been brought into the mainstream.

COVID-19 and the rise of OnlyFans

The site reportedly experienced a surge in activity around the time stay-at-home orders were put in place. OnlyFans reported 3.5 million new signups in March—that’s a 75% increase, or around 150,000 new users every 24 hours.

Since February, the total number of “fans” increased from 20 million in February to about 50 million today, and the number of creators rocketed from 200,000 to 700,000 in the same period.

A combination of loneliness, boredom and a need for extra cash could be to blame. Many porn performers and even average people working day jobs have taken to the internet to make money during the global pandemic.

One OnlyFans creator recently shared:

“I was worried about money, about paying off my mortgage, bills, and stuff. Before lockdown I was looking after animals—pet dogs, mainly. But because it’s an independent business my boss can’t pay me until she gets her grant from the government. At the minute I’m living off savings. OnlyFans seemed like the easiest option.”

Related: Why Porn Performers Are Working To Become The Newest Social Media Influencers

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How there can be 14-year-olds selling content on OnlyFans

OnlyFans has a rather lax content policy, which for many creators, makes it the perfect platform to sell nudes. The caveat is that you must be 18+ to sign up and the site asks for proof via a government-issued ID. However, there are clear loopholes that make bypassing this policy fairly simple.

A BBC reporter recently used age detection software on the site, and found many profiles flagged as appearing to be around the age of 14. She also demonstrated how simple it can be to create a profile using a fake ID.

And even for those who look 18, it’s tough to verify for sure. A lot of creators who share explicit content use fake names, locations, and handles or conceal their faces on OnlyFans.

One 17-year-old OnlyFans creator who goes by “Hannah” says she was actively selling nudes and making about $15-20K a month at age 16. When OnlyFans asked for her ID, she claims to have gotten around the checks by using her friend’s even though they look nothing alike.

Some of the risks OnlyFans poses to individuals, relationships, and society

It’s clear that adult content on OnlyFans doesn’t exclusively involve adults, which is problematic. But what about the content itself is harmful? Before engaging on the OnlyFans platform, there are some significant risks every potential creator or buyer should know.

OnlyFans’ impact on the individual

A growing number of consumers on OnlyFans have reported feeling a deep, and often unhealthy, obsession with creators.

But since OnlyFans is so new, let’s take a look at a more established branch of the adult industry that is comparative: sex webcam sites.

According to a recent survey, a staggering 40% of users on various sexcam sites say they’ve experienced falling in love with or becoming infatuated with specific performers. Some spend upwards of $10,000 a month on sexcams. Because OnlyFans is set up in a similar way, this is paving the way for customers to have infatuation or obsessions with content creators.

Paula Hall, a sex and porn addiction therapist, says sexcam addicts make up an increasingly large number of clients who come to her seeking help, and that users become hooked on these fantasies that feel more like a personal relationship than free porn.

“People start spending more time and money than they intend to… They keep chasing the same dopamine hit. They start noticing they are not spending time with loved ones, or are leaving the club early to spend more time on these sites. They might then gravitate toward using them at work. Often it ends with them using the work computer. That can end their career and I’ve seen people lose a marriage over it.”

The lines between reality and fantasy can become blurred as consumers are given a fleeting, intoxicating peek into a performer’s world. This fake intimacy has the power to pull consumers in—especially given that buyers can direct chat to make the interactions seem even more real.

Related: How My Lifelong Obsession With Webcamming And Cyber Sex Nearly Destroyed Me

One OnlyFans creator says when it comes to the content fans request via private messages, things can get really weird. “I’ll post it then, you know, make it sound more exciting than it actually was. I’ll say, ‘Tip me if you want to know exactly what happened….I’m not going to put a photo of me having a crap day on my Only Fans or me crying or in my pajamas because that’s not going to get me anything. So they’re only seeing the good things.”

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OnlyFans’ impact on relationships

No matter how convincing it may seem for consumers because it’s a direct line of communication from creators to consumers, OnlyFans still is not real. It’s still airbrushed, exaggerated content that can warp consumers’ sexpectations for their own partners, or for some, make them not seek out real intimate relationships at all.

One 27-year-old cam site user shared, “It was better than dating—there was no rejection, no games—you’d chat to a sexy girl and then you’d get the sex.”

He says that free content on Pornhub was his “gateway drug” that led to his sexcam use. After obsessing over a Russian cam girl he found on the site, he grew tired of the same 6-7 videos of her. He started looking for more and stumbled across her profile on a paid sexcam site and felt this was his chance to “chat to her for real.”

Related: How Porn Is More Violently Dehumanizing And Sexually Objectifying To Women Than Ever

“I thought I was better than the other guys that were already chatting to her…She responded really well. I felt like I’d won the hot girl at school,” he said.

He says his new fetish felt more refined than watching basic porn created for everybody. As he grew more obsessive, he quickly started racking up bills of $40-$50 a week to watch her videos.

“But then I’d get agitated when other users made comments about her body…I was angry they wanted her too…I’m spending $400 a month and drinking black coffee to stay up chatting to them, to keep them all happy. I love it but I hate myself at the same time.”

Similar stories are starting to happen with OnlyFans consumers. An anonymous user reached out for help on a public forum, sharing:

“I spent $4,000 on OnlyFans. It’s not only sexual, I fall in love with a girl on OnlyFans and I want her to feel that I’m going to do anything for her. I then get obsessed and spend about half of my monthly income on her. I come to a point where it makes me angry that she won’t get to know me IRL and I fall into a deep depression. I go through the depressed phase and masturbate, cry, etc. I delete her s— and then I fall in love with the next one and so on and so on…. How many of you have the same addiction? How do you get out of it?”

Of course, this won’t happen to every consumer who logs onto OnlyFans, though these accounts show the potential for harm in people’s lives because of the platform.

OnlyFans’ impact on the world

The way porn is consumed on OnlyFans can be especially risky for performers. Consumers hold the power because they have the money, and often feel entitled to certain content that performers might not want to share.

Celestia Vega, a former OnlyFans creator, started out as an online influencer popular on YouTube and Twitch—a social media platform where you can watch people play video games.

Soon after turning 18, nude photos she had sent to an ex were leaked online and went viral in the gaming community. Every time she posted online she was bombarded with comments of web links to sites with her nude photos.

“If I did nothing then people would keep posting these links and thinking they had the upper hand… I hated that. I wanted to have control. I needed to replace those images with something else,” she said.

Just a few weeks later, Vega started selling explicit photos of herself online using the tool that helped facilitate her “impulsive” decision—OnlyFans.

“Every time I posted something, my followers would say, ‘That’s good but it’s not enough,’ I felt like I had to keep getting more extreme,” Vega said. “I told myself that I was empowered and wanted to pretend that I was, but I felt horrible. I was smiling in those pictures, but I wasn’t there. I was doing things like a robot. And I couldn’t stop, because everyone was telling me I had to keep going. I was being forced—honestly, it felt like that….Everyone was so angry at me for not making the next video…I was online or taking pictures almost every moment I wasn’t sleeping.”

And as her followers grew and her content became more explicit, so did the harassment and abuse.

“When you’re on the internet for your entire life, you’re surrounded by predators. They make it hard to understand what’s ok to send, what’s not ok and how those things are going to have real-life consequences,” she said.

It’s clear that introducing this paid content model on social media has had a dramatic effect on the influencer industry as a whole. Instead of influencers being paid by companies to endorse certain products or services, the money now comes directly from subscribers—who dictate what content is produced by what they’re willing to pay for. The pressure for someone to sell more than they originally intended can quickly become overwhelming.

Before lockdown, creators held the power and could determine their prices. But with the recent influx of creators looking to make some extra cash, many are being influenced by competitiveness and manipulated by consumers out of fear of them moving on to someone else. Newcomers are undercharging and doing more explicit content faster and for less money.

OnlyFans claims to have the power to “make you rich.” Creators can be vulnerable and tempted by this promise of wealth, but for many, a dark reality soon hits.

Maggie Morrow, psychotherapist and director of the KlearMinds counseling service, says, “Predators are very seductive…These young girls are getting admiration, they’re being seen, cared for, and they’re being given money. But that is the same mechanism as grooming behavior. Certain people will tolerate being demeaned or abused because it meets a deep, instinctually driven longing for attention.”

Another creator who directs buyers to her OnlyFans page via the hashtag #nudesforsale on Twitter says, “It’s horrible when people demand you to do something so flat-out… Obviously you don’t want to be treated as an object, but at the same time it’s what you’re signing yourself up for.”

Another creator named Eve works for the UK government but uses OnlyFans to supplement her income.

”The downside is that they can say some really explicit things to you,” Eve said. “When I first started I felt like I had to go along with it because they were paying—I didn’t want them to unsubscribe. A lot of the time I feel like it’s bordering on sexual assault.”

OnlyFans content can easily be screenshotted or recorded and shared without a creator’s consent. Eve, who features penetrative sex videos on her OnlyFans page, says her images and videos originally posted to OnlyFans are all over the internet and are almost impossible to retract. There are even entire chat rooms dedicated to sharing OnlyFans content.

Honza Cervenka, a lawyer at a firm specializing in non-consensual pornography cases, says that while you can report stolen material on these platforms and send a takedown notice, this isn’t a long-term solution. “There are numerous computer scripts that copy the videos from one ‘tube’ site to another, and so it quickly becomes a game of whack-a-mole…You might spend a whole week sending takedown requests only to have content resurface six months later. Victims will sometimes have to look over their shoulder for the rest of their lives,” he said.

While OnlyFans says posting revenge porn is in breach of its terms of service and employs an anti-piracy team, this problem is clearly more than the platform has the power to control.

Related: How The Porn Industry Affects Performers Long After Their Careers End

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The influx of underage content creators

Another dark side to the world of OnlyFans is that barriers of entry to the commercial sex industry are virtually eliminated, and even minimum age can be easily bypassed.

When asked what content sells the most, one popular OnlyFans creator says consumers are looking for a young “girl next door… Quite an innocent look.” She says she keeps her content relatively censored on her main feed, but it’s in her private messages where she sells her most explicit and lucrative content.

She also says that hundreds of underage girls as young as 14 come to her asking for advice on how to get started on OnlyFans.

Related: How Teens Get Tricked, Coerced, And Trafficked Into Doing Amateur Porn

Many OnlyFans creators use Twitter to advertise selling nudes and drive traffic to their profiles—particularly through trending hashtags like #teen and #barelylegal. And while there clearly are underage creators on OnlyFans, on the flip side, many adult creators give the illusion of being under 18 to grow their fan base.

Yoti—a platform that helps individuals prove their identity online—recently did a scan of 20K Twitter accounts to detect how many users were underages using the hashtags #nudesforsale and #buymynudes, which are commonly used to direct followers to OnlyFans. In just one day, out of 7,000 profiles where faces could be detected and analyzed they found that 33%, or over 2,500 profiles, were very likely underage.

Clearly, the rise in popularity of OnlyFans is causing an influx of underage content generation—legally defined as child exploitation imagery—even outside of the platform itself.

While this data helps us understand the scale of the issue when it comes to underage girls being attracted to and exploited on these platforms, it’s clearly just the tip of the iceberg.

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Consuming OnlyFans content isn’t harmless

Let’s be clear—we’re not here to shame or pass judgment on OnlyFans or those who use it, whether as creators or consumers. It is our goal, though, to help individuals make an educated decision regarding pornography, and we recognize how OnlyFans isn’t necessarily a “safe” or “ethical” way to consume porn without negative consequences to individuals, relationships, and society.

Ultimately, OnlyFans normalizes the transactional purchase of other human beings—even those who are underage—and people are not products. It can also be detrimental to the sexual, mental, and emotional health of both individuals and performers.

Are the risks worth it?

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